They say a mother always knows when her child is in trouble, when something bad happens. We are supposed to get a funny feeling, or a nameless worry niggling at our subconscious.
I can’t say that happened, exactly, but that is because I simply didn’t believe anything bad was going to happen to my son. I was certainly aware he was deployed to the most dangerous region of Afghanistan, the birthplace of the Taliban. I scoured the news day and night for every mention of the war and through the miracle of the internet, was in contact with my son every few days at least. But I believed, with absolute certainty that he would be okay, that he would come home to me. He did, but it was in the Arms of God, not to my waiting arms.
That day, November 1st, 2010 was a little different as I had a bit of a worry because of the last communication I had with my son. The previous night I had been unable to sleep, which was a common occurrence in those days. When hit with a bout of insomnia, I invariably got up and got on the internet, in the hope that he would be on as well. I had signed on and almost immediately received a message from him, asking if I was okay and what I was doing up at what for me was the middle of the night. Though he did have access to the internet, it was an unstable connection and conversations were often interrupted. As it turns out, I don’t know if he ever received my response to his query, as the connection went down on his end. After about an hour, I gave up and went back to bed.
The following morning I was back on the internet, checking for messages from him, checking the news, checking for evidence that he had been on after our aborted conversation. In those days, as now, I was able to tele-commute for work, so I could have my Facebook, instant messaging and email up while I worked. During my lunch of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the temporary crown I had done the previous week fell out, so I scheduled a 4:00pm dental appointment. I spent the remainder of the afternoon working and rushed out the door at 3:50pm to get my tooth fixed.
While sitting in the dentist’s chair, I kept trying to get on the internet on my phone, as I had yet to hear from or find evidence of Andy having been on after our conversation was cut off. I had been searching, all day, for news of the war, trying to find out if something had happened, if there had been an attack on the base or if someone had been injured or worse while out on patrol. I knew that it was standard operating procedure for all communications to be cut off if someone from the base was injured or killed, because over the summer, a soldier had been killed and others had immediately contacted their families to let them know they were okay. But in the process, someone contacted a member of the soldiers’ family before the official notification could reach them. To make sure such a thing never happened again, the Army put a communications blackout in place whenever there was an injury or death.
The hygienist was aware of what I was doing and why, and commented about how hard it must be to live like that, not knowing from one moment to the next if your child was okay. My response was something along the lines of “I don’t worry because before I could know that something happened, there would be a knock at my door. The internet connection went down about 14hours ago, and if it was something bad, I’d already have been contacted. Besides, it goes down a couple times a week, just because they are in such a remote area.”
As I was leaving the dentist’s office, my cell phone rang. It was my mother, saying my ex-husband had called her, trying to reach me. She said she thought something was wrong, maybe with someone in his family and he knew I would be able to get in contact with Andy. I called him immediately.
When he told me to go home, when he told me they killed Andy, Andy was dead, I was simply confused. I couldn’t understand how or why he would know this, if it was true, before I did. I was Andy’s home address of record, where all his paperwork, etc., was sent. I was his power of attorney, so I didn’t understand. But, as soon as he said the words, I knew it was true. I suddenly understood what that feeling in my chest all day meant. My heart had broken but my mind had refused to acknowledge it.
I don’t remember much of what happened next. I remember screaming. I remember being face down in the parking lot, but don’t remember how I got that way or getting back up. I remember trying to get to my car, and then there were people there. A woman came up to me, and a man, and someone took my keys away from me. I do remember this woman saying her husband is in the Army and she started making phone calls. I remember pulling my son’s dog tags out of my purse, where they always were, and calling the contact number stored in my phone for the Family Readiness Group down at Ft. Campbell. I remember there were police there. I remember calling my husband and him telling me to stay put, that he would be right there. I also remember finally getting ahold of someone at Ft. Campbell, but I don’t remember what I said, only that the man on the line asked who was with me and if I could put that person on the phone. Later, much later, I met that man in person and knew I needed to apologize to him, because I didn’t remember what I said, but I was pretty sure I was screaming.
My husband put me in his car and took me home. Minutes later, two men in uniform came to the door. Up until that moment, I kept saying it was a mistake, there was a mistake because this is not the way you’re supposed to be notified. I kept thinking maybe he was injured, because they will deliver that news by phone, they won’t tell you your child is dead by phone. When I saw those two men in their Class A uniforms, I knew that the mistake was in how I was notified, but not in the news.
Within hours, our house was filled with more than 30 kids, friends of Andy’s and friends of my step sons. Again, how the news got out so fast was a mistake. One of my son’s father’s family members put a message on Facebook. The Casualty Notification Team had just left the house when the phone rang. It was one of Andy’s friends, asking what was going on, begging me to tell him it was not true. My husband told me to find out where this boy was, tell him to stay there and he would go get him. I then called Andy’s father and told him, not very nicely, that I hadn’t even reached my mother yet, and he needed to keep his family from posting on Facebook. I had already called my brother and told him, and he was on his way to our mother’s house to tell her in person, but I hadn’t yet talked to her. By the time I was finished with these phone calls, people started arriving, many of them simply bursting through the front door, screaming and crying. No one, myself included, knew what to do but being together was the right way to do it.
It was after midnight when we finally cleared out the house. We only had a few hours until we had to be at the airport for our flight to Dover, to witness my son’s return to US soil.
Continued tomorrow in Coming Home
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